Brooks Reitz has been mixing up cocktails and sharing his passion for the American bar tradition all over Charleston since he made the move from Lexington, Kentucky, in 2008. While managing the bar program at FIG, Reitz launched Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. producing high-quality bar goods and mixers, and is now celebrating 12 years in business with a release of new products including a bloody mary mix.
In the intervening decade that has seen Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. grow into a favorite of both industry professionals and home bartenders, Reitz has opened three hit restaurants (Leon’s, Little Jack’s Tavern, and Melfi’s) in the Upper King Street neighborhood of Charleston with his business partner, Tim Mink. Each spot boasts its own distinct identity reflected in their design, cuisine, and beverage menu.
Here, we caught up with Reitz who shared with us a bit about his philosophy and inspiration, plus a few Jack Rudy spring cocktails to help us celebrate the start of the season.
TLP: First off, what cocktail is in your hand when the perfect spring day hits?
Brooks Reitz: A gin and tonic, or a margarita.
TLP: You wear a lot of hats between your restaurants, Jack Rudy Cocktail Co., and bottling your own Oyster Shed Rosé. What’s one philosophy that serves you in all of your roles?
BR: Trust smart people to do their jobs, avoid trends, and keep it simple.
TLP: What cocktail ingredients are you excited to play with this season?
BR: I’m excited to play around with different herbs this season. Throwing some into a shaker tin can perfume a drink and give it a little lift and some elegance.
TLP: How do you curate the cocktail menus unique to each of your restaurants’ distinct identities?
BR: We ensure the cocktail selections speak to the clientele, the energy of the room, and the price point. Leon’s favors drinks that are “crushable,” light, and fun—think frozen G&T’s, mini beers, and lots of Champagne. Little Jack’s tends toward more classic, robust drinks like the old fashioned—our clientele there tends to be a bit older and a more mature drinker. At Melfi’s, we are Italian, so we use Italian-leaning ingredients that have a sense of luxuriousness to them.
TLP: In the days of free-for-all travel, where did you find the most inspiration? What has been your most memorable food and drink research trip to date?
BR: I find inspiration in anything and everything: magazines, movies, travel, music. But the cocktail culture in London, for me, is the best. We’ve made an annual trip there to visit with our importers, and we always find ourselves seeking out the best bars to experience great service and impeccable craftsmanship.
TLP: Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. has seen exponential growth in the last year. Can you tell us about that experience and the new releases of Jack Rudy products that has allowed?
BR: I couldn’t have done it without the support and guidance of my business partner, Taylor Huber. He has been an integral part of guiding our business and sorting through the logistics of a growing company. Seeing the growth year over year has been an incredible reminder that we are doing things correctly and our customers appreciate our efforts. On top of that, we’ve never taken a dollar in investment—not even a bank loan.
We’ve grown the company slowly, thoughtfully, and have maintained full ownership. As the sales have grown that has become such a key component—we are able to do things exactly as we see fit without the approval of an outside investor.
This year we released a number of products that have long been in the works; our development process is arduous and detailed. We strive to get our mixers exactly right. Seeing their immediate success upon release is an incredibly gratifying feeling and I am reminded daily that we’ve been incredibly fortunate. If we had to do it all over again, I’m not certain we would succeed.
TLP: If you weren’t an entrepreneur in the culinary world, what would you be doing?
BR: I studied drama in college, and if I weren’t in the restaurant world, I’d like to give acting another shot. And once that fails I would come crawling back to restaurants…
Brooks Reitz’s Go-To Spring Cocktails
Bold and smooth silver tequila cuts through cucumber’s mellow, refreshing flavor, and the herbal sweetness from fresh mint gives this margarita a warm weather facelift.
This mixture has the sweet, spicy, and tangy taste of a bloody mary. Give it a lighter edge with an effervescent Mexican lager, and it becomes perfect for brunch, tailgating, or other get-togethers.
Mexican Firing Squad
This powerful collaboration of fiery tequila, tart lime, sweet grapefruit soda is a fun riff on the paloma with a splash of Jack Rudy Grenadine.
Packed with a tart kick of lime and Jack Rudy Extra Bitter Tonic, this gin-based drink is accented with a lovely lavender undertone.
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